Vehicle congestion in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 3 2016. File Picture: CRIS FAGA/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
Vehicle congestion in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 3 2016. File Picture: CRIS FAGA/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

Brasilia — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sent Congress one of his most controversial legislative proposals yet: a bill easing punishment for drivers who violate traffic rules in a country with the highest number of road fatalities after China and India.

Among suggested changes, drivers will be allowed to rack up twice as many traffic violation points before losing their licence, and truckers will not have to pass drug tests to obtain theirs. And all Brazilians up to age 55 years will only need to pass driving tests once every 10 years rather than the current five years.

The former army captain personally handed the bill to lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia on Tuesday. Only two other proposals have so far inspired such a show of presidential support: his flagship pension overhaul and another bill changing special retirement rules for the military. In another controversial measure earlier in 2019, Bolsonaro made it easier for Brazilians to buy guns.

The government justified the proposal by saying drivers are losing their licence “too quickly” under current rules and that drug tests for truckers are “too costly”.

The proposal on traffic legislation, which needs to be approved by the lower house and the Senate, is certain to please Bolsonaro’s supporters, and perhaps even allow him to boost an approval rating that has fallen sharply since his mandate started in January. Even more satisfied will be truck drivers, who had been threatening to repeat 2018’s devastating strike if the government does not rein in diesel prices.

But some legislators, including the head of the special committee in charge of pension reform, reprimanded the president for helping “bad drivers” and for his apparent lack of focus. “Bolsonaro has no idea of what’s a priority and what’s important for the country,” lower house deputy Marcelo Ramos posted on his Twitter account.

Over 34,000 people died in traffic accidents in 2017, according to Brazil’s health ministry.